In recent weeks, you’ve probably noticed videos of your favorite celebrities pouring buckets of ice water on their heads “for ALS.” The way the “Ice Bucket Challenge” goes is, celebs and non-celebrities videotape themselves pouring the freezing water on their heads, blow up the video on their social media accounts with hashtags like #alsicebucketchallenge and #icebucketchallenge, and then call out their friends to take the challenge within 24 hours or otherwise donate $100 to the ALS Association.
To date, the challenge has raised more than $22 million and ever-growing awareness for ALS. But, what exactly is this disease that has so many people taking a polar plunge?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrigh’s disease (named for the New York Yankees Hall of Famer who passed of the disease) is a nervous system disease that attacks nerve cells called neurons in your brain and spinal cord. These neurons transmit messages from your brain and spinal cord to your voluntary muscles – the ones you can control, like in your arms and legs.
Based on U.S. population studies, a little over 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. That’s 15 new cases a day. Although this disease does not primarily affect the African American community, it usually strikes at random, so it is equally important to be knowledgeable about it.
The cause is still unknown and there is no cure for ALS. Medicine can relieve symptoms and, sometimes, prolong survival. Most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 60, with 55 being the average age at the time of diagnosis. Some of the early warning signs are:
- Trouble walking or running
- Trouble writing
- Speech problems
In the late stages of the disease, patients lose their strength and cannot move. When muscles in the chest fail, the patient cannot breathe. A breathing machine can help, but most people with ALS die from respiratory failure.
For a list of certified ALS Association Centers, click here.
Visit the BlackDoctor.org Brain and Nervous System center for more articles.